The Vegan Diet Table of Contents
The Vegan Diet is a series consisting of 2 parts.
- The Vegan Diet: Why you Should Choose Veganism
- Part II: Arguments Against Veganism and Our (Not So) Stunning Conclusion on the Diet
Not too long ago, we published an article about the ethics of veganism. In that, we asked this question: Is veganism, when it comes down to it, more of an ethical consideration than a nutritional one? That is, if we could “create” a world free of animal cruelty – a place where the animals raised for food would live the fullest lives and die the most painless deaths – would vegans still choose to be vegans?
Needless to say, the debate that arose on the topic was a healthy one. Many of you pointed out that vegans are vegans based on a number of reasons, and while it does have to do with both nutrition and ethics, it really depends on the person. I completely agree and think that, like all people, the vegan community is colorful with rationals and reasons.
This has thus led me to consider the vegan diet, then, as a nutritional choice: Does veganism provide for a healthier body, an equally healthy body, or an more unhealthy body when compared to diets that include animal products? And, of course, why?
The Vegan Diet: Fundamental Principles
By this point, I assume we all have a pretty strong understanding of what veganism is, its purposes, and its principles. For clarity’s sake, though, here’s a basic run down of what veganism supports:
- Veganism refers to the practice of abstaining from animal products – this includes clothes, foods, and personal care products.
- Veganism is also connected to the idea of no animal cruelty, which can be understood as the unnecessary, inhumane treatment of animals raised for slaughter.
- Veganism is often argued as a more ethical diet, as well as one that is more sustainable.
Nutritionally, we are focused on the first point: the avoidance of animal products in our foods. Here, the common worry stems from potential deficiencies of essential vitamins and minerals. Another concern is consuming adequate, high quality forms of the macronutrient protein. Many vegan dieters argue, though, that they are able to get a well balanced diet from plants.
There are those, though, who worry that these foods are not enough, and they cite specific vitamins and nutrients that are not naturally found in a purely vegan diet. Without these nutrients, specific people are at a heightened risk for deficiencies. While I would hesitate to argue there are “sides” to this debate, it’s important to consider all features – for and against – specific diets and lifestyles.
Let’s first hear from the side that argues in support of veganism:
The Arguments Supporting Veganism
As mentioned above, veganism holds a number of specific principles. For this, though, we want to focus on the nutritional comparison. Here, there are a number of arguments that hold veganism as a superior diet for the body, not to mention one that is easy to follow. Although the arguments supporting veganism are complex, I’ve tried to boil them down to quick, digestible points.
Number 1. Vegans are able to get a complete nutritional profile from plants
When it comes down to it, there is no reason to assume veganism is unhealthy, as vegans can get a complete nutritional profile from plant sources. In the cases of some nutrients, it is simple to incorporate a supplement or fortified foods into the diet. And here’s how:
- Protein: While it may come as a surprise to some, vegetable protein – like that coming from beans, whole grains, fruit, meat analogs, seeds – contains the same 22 essential amino acids found in animal products. While ad campaigns have purported that vegetable proteins are somehow inferior, they are actually just as good, if not better.
- Calcium: When it comes to calcium, it’s crucial to eat plenty of dark leafy greens, vegetables like bok choy, broccoli, and kale, tofu, and, if needed, to supplement additionally with fortified milks or cereals. As explained by the Vegetarian Resource Group, “When you realize that there is as much or more calcium in 4 ounces of firm tofu or 3/4 cup of collard greens as there is in one cup of cow’s milk, it is easy to see why groups of people who do not drink cow’s milk still have strong bones and teeth.”
- Vitamin B-12: This is a crucial nutrient all vegans needs to be aware of – but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to get. Fortified soymilks, cereals, nutritional yeast, and veggie burgers are great sources of this nutrient. Supplements are another option for getting this required vitamin.
- Vitamin D: While the main source of this vitamin in the American diet is milk, it’s important to keep in mind that the sun is the best source. According to the Vegetarian Resource Group, “Vitamin D is not found in the vegan diet but can be made by humans following exposure to sunlight. At least ten to fifteen minutes of summer sun on hands and face two to three times a week is recommended for adults so that vitamin D production can occur.” What’s more, the same fortified foods you’ll be using for other nutrients will likely supply you with vitamin D. Be sure to get a fortified milk or cereal that contains this essential nutrient!
Number 2. By avoiding animal products, vegans avoid the diseases associated with them
What’s more, veganism is healthier because, by avoiding animal products, vegans avoid diseases associated with them. Take the case of President Bill Clinton, for example. The former president had a quadruple bypass in 2004, and just last year, Clinton had to implant two stents – or artificial tubes – to open one of the veins from the earlier surgery.
Because of his complicated health, the President has decided to go on a vegan diet, and in his own words, “All my blood tests are good, and my vital signs are good, and I feel good, and I also have, believe it or not, more energy.” This makes Clinton’s case a great representation of the benefits of veganism when compared to a traditional diet. In omnivorous diets, the body is exposed to carcinogens, high levels of fat, and the chemicals used in factory farming, such as growth hormones. In fact, by switching to a vegan diet, it has been shown to help treat type 2 diabetes, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and cancer.
So is it Perfect?
There are still arguments questioning the diet, though, despite it’s somewhat favorable light. Don’t miss the next part in this series to find out!